Hamburgers and a ’63 Merc

MM burger
Marilyn Monroe eating an old-fashioned hamburger at a drive-in hamburger stand. Photo by Philippe Halsman.

Nearly all Americans would agree that hamburgers are the All-American icon.  A simple grilled ground beef patty, salted and peppered, slathered with mayo, mustard and ketchup then sandwiched in a plain bun.

At least that’s how I know them.  Oh, hold the pickles, please.

Now, us kids that grew up watching “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” have given birth to a generation that has taken a simple thing and made them into $15 gourmet, fancied-up, mushroom-covered (expensive) cuisine.  Do you think I like Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden?  Drool…

But I don’t know if I like the “change”.

Back to this in a minute, folks.

The fancy hamburgers – not the drool.

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Dad had always owned Fords when he could finally afford getting a car.  I guess that’s where I get my Ford passion from.

July 5, 1955
Aunt Eiko holding me in front of my dad’s Ford Consul automobile. If you are reading my past stories about WWII, you will know that only the occupying Americans could afford to buy a car. Her husband was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  Tokyo, July 5, 1955.
Enoshima Beach, Tokyo - April 1957
My dad’s ’57 Ford Fairlane parked on Enoshima Beach, Tokyo. I’m thinking it was a dark green. April 1957.

After leaving Japan for the last time  in the late ‘50’s, my pop bought his first new car stateside in 1963 – he was 44 years old.  It was a two door Cascade Blue 1963 Mercury Meteor custom hardtop; a king of obscurity to say the least, but to a kid of about ten, it was Flash Gordon’s rocket ship.  Unlike Hillary, it was easy to love this car.

1964 or 1965 / Dad's new 1963 Mercury Meteor
On a road trip to Chicago in 1964. I’m still holding onto my Fujipet camera with dad’s 1963 Mercury Meteor behind us. This may have been in Utah.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wouldn’t get a choice spot if valet parked.  I say wouldn’t as my old man couldn’t afford valet, let alone a family dinner out.  But to me, the rocket ship had a chrome finish AM push-button radio – turn the dial on the right, find a station, pull out a button, then push it back in to set it.  Trouble is I did it a dozen times each time I got into the car.  But all I cared about was KFI 640 AM, the Dodgers’ station.  The golden voice of Vin Scully… and Fairly, Gilliam, Wills and I forget who played third.  They were World Series champs that year.

Six adults could get into this rocket ship with room to spare – eight of us little Japanese folks and a dog.  The cargo hold in back swallowed up my Sears JC Higgins bike in one gulp with enough space leftover for Frank Howard.  (I saw him hit the scoreboard in right field with a home run.)

Unless my aging grey matter is dissolving at warp speed (maybe it is), there were ash trays with shiny covers in each armrest…and this was for the back seats.  It was a favorite depository for my Bazooka chewing gum but I kept the wax covered cartoon that came with it.

Pop kept it for quite some time.  I passed my driver’s license test in it on my 16th birthday.  I got a 96 only because she claimed I never looked in the rear view mirror.  Poppy cock.  I always look in the rear view mirror for cops.  Even back then.

And as it was the only car we had back then, I also drove my date to one of my senior proms in it (I went to two.).  And the answer is, “No,” if anyone was wondering…but I’m sure she was disappointed.  Well, maybe not.

The four-wheel drum brakes were spectacular…not.  Instead of rubber meets the road, it was like rubber met the world’s supply of Vaseline while fighting the pull to the left… and this was at 25 mph.  Steering?  An oil tanker’s captain would do well.  Turn the wheel a lot; see the slight change in direction a few seconds later.  Pat Brady and Nellybelle turned better – and that was out in the desert on sand.

meteor engine
The Mercury Meteor’s 260 cid V-8.

I overhauled the epoch 164 hp 260 cid V8 sometime around 1976 in our garage.  At 13 years of age, she had become an old girl.  She had become a V6, meaning it had lost compression in two cylinders.  I remember setting zero lash, then three-quarters turn of the ratchet for the hydraulic lifters during the overhaul.  The distributor was the biggest headache, of all things.  It was like extracting an impacted molar and only after using copious amounts of Liquid Wrench in place of laughing gas did it finally come out.  “Older” Blue Oval guys know what I’m describing.

___________________________

Back to today’s elegant hamburgers and change.

Instead of the push-pull AM radio, my youngest son – who was seven when I bought it – similarly discovered my ’08 Mustang GT had a “My Color” dashboard light feature.  Now I know how my pop felt as my son forced me to experience every color of the rainbow while driving at night – every time.  It was like being at an all-night disco club.

Bazooka bubble gum and ashtrays are no more but treasure hunters will be pleased after exploring the map pockets.  No disappointments there.  I promise… especially after my little Cake Boss had sat in the back.  Latex gloves are highly recommended before exploring.

Overhaul it?  After all, my GT’s got a 281 V8, only twenty-one more cubes than my pop’s…but it pumps out a magnificent 505 hp thanks to her Roush supercharger and Carmen pulley.  Hell, I’m afraid to change spark plugs.  Who would imagine in 1963 there would be a TSB on just how to R&R spark plugs?

roush blower
My Roush supercharger and gizmos.

And unlike my pop’s ’63 Merc which ran on simple mechanical principles (but threw physics principles out the window for the so-called braking), the computing power in my Mustang would cause Einstein to strike a pose like Captain Morgan.

And today’s stunning braking power is the true reason for seat belts – it compassionately keeps your head from being continually used to redesign the windshield.  The aftermarket Wilwood six-piston disc brakes I installed with slotted and cross-drilled rotors exacerbates the stop-on-a-dime tendencies… which is a good thing.

270768_1922679229805_1326818011_31876806_6107098_n
The Wilwood Six Piston disc brakes on my Mustang.

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So it appears the delicious, basic hamburger of the 1960’s has been brought into the 21st Century.  Kids that watched Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden fooled with the wonderfully simple ground beef and bread formula to give us today’s foodie gourmet burger…and we can still listen to Vinny’s golden voice, to boot.  Glorious.

And well, with 505 hp at the crank instead of 164 hp, it’s hard to complain.  Neither do my kids when they hear the whine of my Roush supercharger.  They like to scream.  But it’s a shame my pop’s ’63 Mercury Meteor won’t be swept into anyone’s museum.

__________________________

I guess technology has its benefits.

I’ll take a gourmet burger in the end after all.

Pass the Heinz ketchup, please.

At least that hasn’t changed.

37 thoughts on “Hamburgers and a ’63 Merc”

  1. I owned a 57 Fairlane in 1965 …. man, that car had more electrical problems than Las Vegas during a lightening storm. I then purchased a 64 Ford Galaxy 500 … I wish I still had it. I also owned a black 54 Merc 2-door hardtop.

  2. My first car was a 63 Fairlane. It had the 2 speed automatic and the 260 V-8. The previous owner had put spacers in the front coil springs for that cool 70s stance. The lack of power probably kept me out of a lot of trouble. I’ll have a well done cheeseburger, hold the pickles.

    1. Ah, yes… The two speed slip-n-slide. And Lol about them spacers! Out here, we jacked up the rear axles with a spacer… And come on over for burgers! (That’ll tick some we know off…)

  3. You and I must be VERY close in age! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I miss A & W burger joints where they put the tray on the car window. Someone would make a million bucks if they opened one!

    1. I learned never to comment on a lady’s age! But we do have a sorta drive-in… It’s not too popular, unfortunately, but the quality of food has a big impact on keeping customers away!

  4. PS- My hubby had a convertible 53 merc. He was building cars from scrap at age 16. You two would get along….My family had a 56 green chevy station wagon that my best friend and I washed to surprise my parents…….with Brillo pads.
    I was the one who ended up surprised!
    😥

  5. I can’t relate to all this talk of super old cars—but I can tell you all about a burger!! Lol! Old fashioned, fancy, gourmet—I’ll take ’em all. Hold the pickles though.

  6. What a lovely, poignant post! We recognise a lot from advertising and films but we never did the big boat-car thing here and hamburgers have caught on but aren’t really part of our childhood. What fun you must have had sailing around in that car 😉

    1. You’re correct in your description, animalcouriers, about the boat like ride. Forgot about that! Thanks for reminding me. And with the lovely countrysides and winding roads of England, Jags are more suited…and classy!

  7. You got my curiosity up and I went into Auto Trader Classics to check for the ash trays. The slide shows for both the beige one (@ $11,00) and the blue one (@ $19,995) showed the back seat but not a clear shot of the armrest, I think I saw the edge of what be one. So – long story short – your mind is as sound as ever!!

  8. I love the story telling. I smile because I have owned several of these same vehicles, but my only Merc was a 1954 two-door hardtop. The car was a tank and back then, who cared about gas mileage?

  9. Laughing here, Koji. Leave it to you to turn a blog on hamburgers into a dissertation on your loved automobiles. And yes, you were a pudgy, adorable baby. 🙂 As for hamburgers, there is a restaurant up in Coeur d’Alene Idaho named Hudson’s that is famous for it’s old fashioned hamburgers. There are like 20 stools at a counter and a very long waiting line. I did a blog on the restaurant and was amazed by the number of people who clicked on it. The joint has been in Sunset Magazine, etc. I even had a Chicago TV station ask to use one of my photos. LOL My blog is at http://wandering-through-time-and-place.me/2011/07/13/is-the-worlds-best-basic-hamburger-to-be-found-at-hudsons-hamburgers-in-coeur-dalene-idaho/ –Curt

    1. Well… I said I’m not a writer so befuddlement is to be expected, Curt! 🙂 And I’ve visited Idaho just once in my life for a one-day business trip. Off the plane then on again. I’ve got to check out your link! It must be good if your photo was requested. You find the best places so I’m drooling already!

  10. Three things:
    1- You are right about the ash trays in the rear seat arm rests. All American vehicles from that period had them. Some in the 1970’s did, like my Dad’s Monte Carlo.
    2- I don’t know who came up with the idea of ruining hamburgers with those damned pickles, but they should have been shot..lol
    3- Funny you mentioned KFI 640 AM. I listen to them now online here in Virginia. Never been to California yet. But, I was turned on to KFI by a Facebook friend. Tim Conway’s son Tim Jr. has a nightly show there, with a game on Thursdays called, ‘What The Hell Did Jesse Jackson Say?’. They play Jesse sound clips and you have to figure out what the hell he said…lol

    1. So you are from a “bow tie” family, eh (Chevy)? The Monte Carlo (70-ish) are becoming collectibles now. What color was it?

      Who ruined the burgers? McDonald’s for one!

      And Tim Sr. is a hoot. I have the Carol Burnett series and he and Harvey Kormann were a riot. We all started to laugh as the scene started… Good days of clean comedy.

      1. Oh, yes. Though we’re all disgusted with GM becoming ‘gubmit motors’ now..lol My MC is a 2007 SS. Dad had a 77 MC, my aunt had a 71 MC. We’ve also had a 68 Chevelle, 1970 El Camino, 76 Corvette, along with every model of 60’s and early 70’s trucks you can think of.

        Hardee’s ruined them too…lol I used to take the pickles off and my cousin would eat them…lol

        Yeah, I grew up on Tim and Harvey & Carol. Tim’s son is different, but just as funny. Clean comedy, show is also very pro-kids too.

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